The Countdown to Philly Beer Week: Sometimes there’s just too many choices!

Once when I was in first grade my grandparents took me to NYC.  I don’t remember toysoldiermany of the details but one thing that still stands in my mind was going to FAO Schwarz.  For those of you too young to recall, FAO was simply the greatest toy store on the planet.  Back before the net, the FAO catalog that would come before Christmas was pure crack for us kids.  But to actually travel to the Mecca itself- to walk in through those glass doors was like entering Nirvana.  The experience could be quite overwhelming, making it hard to know where to go and what to gawk at first.

That’s kind of how I feel now as I am poised on the eve of another Philly Beer Week.  For the next ten days our city (and metro region) will be deluged with amazing beer some of which is appearing here for the first time or is a one-off brewed just for the occasion.  There are chances to meet some true luminaries and to indulge in carefully paired beer dinners.  There’s also the chance to have some fun doing things like racing to assemble IKEA furniture after chugging two high proof beers and other such creative nonsense.

The problem is that it is actually overwhelming for me to try and assess what to do.  There are after all, only so many hours in the day, so much time I can take away from work and from family and of course only so much abuse my poor liver can endure.

Four or five years ago it used to be easier.. pick a few premium events featuring world class opportunities to taste or talk and make the time.  Now I feel like the first grade me all over again… I look at the PBW schedule and have no idea where to begin.

Look- I am not asking for a pity party here.  As problems go, this is a good one to have.

The best thing for me to do is to admit from the start that no matter how hard I try simply cannot do everything I want to.  Welcome to adulthood, Kirk.  In years past this would have driven me nuts. I would have lost sleep trying to figure out how I can be in two places at once or how I can skip out early on some critical meeting in order to try and get a taste of Super Dooper Barrel Aged Monkey Butt Ale with Brett (on the off chance that is actually a beer name I apologize for infringing on your IP).

But you know what, somehow it doesn’t matter quite so much anymore.  I’ve tried a lot of beers and I will get to try a lot more and even though I may miss out on some amazing brew that I will never get to taste again, what really matters is that my life is still pretty well complete and quite fulfilling anyway.

And so this year I will get out to the Brew Off and together with a Rabbi and a Minister I will again walk into a bar, but beyond that I may only get to a few other events.  And you know what- I’m OK with that.

But, if you’re in the area, do yourself a favor and go to something- anything- cause its all pretty good and this week is something that Philly does better than any place else on earth!

Thanks for indulging me and allowing me to use the blog as my confessional and who knows… maybe I’ll see you out there for Philly Beer Week.

 

PS-  I just learned that the iconic FAO in NYC is closing :(

It’s Team Jesus vs Team Moses. The Biblical Brew Off is Back!

In what we hope will be bigger and better than ever.  For the second time homebrew teams from Saint Timothy’s Episcopal Church and Congregation Rodeph Shalom will be laying it all on the line to see which faith makes the better beer.  Team Moses will be putting up three of their best in the rematch in hopes taking the title away from Team Jesus in the 2nd Annual Biblical Brew Off.     arm-wrestle

If you’re not familiar with the event from last year, each congregation will brew 3 beers which will then be blindly evaluated by experienced judges according to BJCB standards.  The team with the highest total points from their 3 beers will be declared the winner.  There will also be a people’s choice- each person in attendance will get to vote for their one favorite beer. 140510_biblical brew off_030

But we will not simply be competing for bragging rights.  Every penny above our actual expenses will go to charity.  Team Jesus will be competing for North Light Community Center while Team Moses will be competing for Jews in All Hues. The purse will be split with 2/3rd going to the winner’s charity and 1/3 to the other – that way everyone walks away a winner.  Of course we encourage donations and will give someone from each charity a few minutes to talk about their mission.

This year promises to be bigger and better than ever since it will be part of Philly Beer Week.   Join us on May 30th at 7pm at Rodeph Shalom (615 North Broad Street).  Tickets are only $35 ($40 at the door) and can be purchased here.  That gets you unlimited samples of the different beers, BBQ from Deke’s (a local favorite) and a commemorative pint glass. Best of all its all to benefit local people in need and those who struggle to fit in.

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Big thanks to our judges (Nancy Rigberg, Danya Henniger and George Hummel)  Brian Biggs (who drew the logo), Home Sweet Homebrew, Michael Mafodda of Blue Stone Creative Group who got us the glasses and shirts, Erin Wallace and Barren Hill for donating the People’s Choice prize and to James Zelniak of Punch Media for all of their support!

Nerd Alert!

Once a nerd, always a nerd.  My middle and high school years were spent dressed in fiendcamouflage and memorizing the contents of the Fiend Folio.  I went to Renaissance Faires, in costume, complete with chain mail I made myself.   If that doesn’t make me a nerd, I don’t know what would.

In the decades since much has changed about my life.  My clothes come from Nordstrom Rack as opposed to I. Goldberg. I haven’t played D&D in almost a decade (though I still have my  Fiend Folio) nor can I remember the last time I shouted Huzzah! or walked around Mount Hope with a smoked turkey leg and leather mug.

But the fact is, I’m still a nerd.  I just swapped memorizing facts about fictional monsters for memorizing the ABV and IBU’s of hundreds of different beers.  Instead of reading countless trashy novels of Gor,  I now devour the equally lurid but far longer and better written Game of Thrones.  Once a nerd, always a nerd.

But every once in a while my nerd-i-verses collide.  And so it was that last month I found myself immersed in the great nerd-convergence as fragments of my past mingled with the present.

Like millions of others my wife and I were looking forward to April 12th with great anticipation.  If you need to ask why April 12th was significant then I fear that what I am about to share will just leave you shaking your head.  But please read on nonetheless.

As the date for the premiere of Season Five of Game of Thrones drew closer we started planning how we could celebrate this momentous event in the style it deserved.

DSC_4200And so it was that my many nerdy facets starting coming together.  The fact that I am now a beer nerd came in handy.  I went to the cellar and broke out my collection of all five (to date) GOT themed beers from Ommegang.  My wife did her part by breaking out her GOT cookbook- a Feast of Ice and Fire.  And Ren Faire background kicked in by providing chain mail, a shield and sword to decorate the table.

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The end result was either totally awesome or kind of sad (though how anyone could failDSC_4221 to be impressed by bacon lattice topped beef pie is beyond me).  It all depends on whether or not you are a nerd.  Because no matter how much your tastes may change over the years the fact remains: once a nerd, always a nerd.  And you know what, I’m just fine with that.

 

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Waiting for the “Click”

During Lent and since I spent a lot of time reflecting on the role alcohol plays in my life. As part of this work I have done some basic research into what is considered healthy levels of alcohol consumption.  This should not be surprising.  So often when it comes to things like our health we turn to quantifiable measures.

What I found was a huge range of what qualifies as “excessive” when it comes to drinking.  It varies first and foremost by gender.  Across the board men can drink more than women and still stay within the “healthy” range.  But from there the variations spread out over such a range as to become confusing. For an idea check out this article that gives a thorough overview.  But ultimately, the measure depends upon who and where you ask.  Contrast this article from the UK to the CDC’s recommendations.  I suspect it also varies just as widely depending on when in history you were asking as well.

The point is that there is not universal agreement as to the numbers.  Indeed some have calling the CDC’s recommendations into question.  For example in New Zealand it is recommended that a man consume no more than 1-2 drinks per day with a cap of 14 drinks per week.  Moreover, they also recommend not drinking on 2 days per week.  At the more liberal end countries like Italy or the UK can allow for 3-4 drinks per day (although it varies depending on which source you consult).

While it is clear that everyone thinks there are limits on how much booze we drink before it becomes a problem it seems to me that there is a more compelling and important question to be asked here.  Just why do we drink?  If we are really going to understand drinking in the context of health then I think we need to take an equally candid look at why we drink.  So perhaps it is more helpful in making a true assessment to ask the question of why?  Here there is some literature but again it is widely varied and often focuses only on problematic reasons.  One of the more useful ones I found is here.

But in the end when it comes to assessing our relationship with alcohol many times “why” turns out to be the most important question we can ask ourselves.  Sometimes we drink for positive reasons- to celebrate, to compliment a meal, to enhance time with friends.  Other times we drink to cope with negative things like depression, anger, stress or anxiety.

Of course not all “negative” reasons for drinking are inherently unhealthy.  There is nothing wrong with having a scotch to unwind after a long meeting. But is that the only way you have of coping?  Why are you turning to that bottle?  Is it because you have no other way to manage the difficult feelings inside or is it a compliment to other mechanisms.  Is that drink taking the place of spiritual or emotional resources or is it simply one of many ways you have to help unwind and leave that meeting behind you for the night?

The point is that the “why” matters.  Those of us who drink have lots of different why’s.  And many times they are circumstantial.   When we come back from that stressful meeting we will not always choose to cope with it by having a drink. Maybe sometimes instead of the drink you might go a for a run to burn off the stress?  Or you might sip on that drink while venting to your spouse as well.   Indeed, having a variety of why’s and more importantly  a variety of ways of coping with the negative ones would seem to be indicate a healthier relationship with alcohol.   But when the reasons we drink becoming fewer and more consistent, it is then that we have to be especially vigilant.

catI can think of no more poignant example of an unhealthy “why” than the character of Brick from Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.  I saw this play years ago at McCarter Theater in Princeton and this scene left an indelible impression.  Indeed in those times when I have turned to alcohol to cope with stress or to otherwise help me quell some inner demon, I have replayed it in my own mind, wondering if I too am looking for that “click.”

              Brick: Somethin’ hasn’t happened yet.

             Big Daddy: What’s that?

             Brick: A click in my head.

             Big Daddy: Did you say “click”?

             Brick: Yes sir, the click in my head that makes me feel peaceful.

             Big Daddy: Boy, sometimes you worry me.

            Brick: It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the                   cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.

            Big Daddy: Boy, you’re, you’re a real alcoholic!

            Brick: That is the truth. Yes, sir, I am an alcoholic. So if you’d just excuse me…

            Big Daddy[grabbing him] No, I won’t excuse you.

            Brick: Now I’m waitin’ for that click and I don’t get it. Listen, I’m all alone. I’m                   talkin’ to no one where there’s absolute quiet.

            Big Daddy: You’ll hear plenty of that in the grave soon enough.

For the fully dramatic effect you can watch the scene here.

Why do we drink?  What are we looking for that drink to do for us?  As much as “how much” and “how often” these are also the questions we need to be asking ourselves as we assess our relationship with alcohol.  As much as I love beer the fact is I cannot drink as much as I might sometimes like and hope to remain healthy, not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually and relationally as well.  As a result I have to keep looking at my habits and asking that vital question, why?   Because if we are looking to booze to bring us peace, we might find temporary relief, but it cannot ever truly silence our inner demons.

If you have ever wondered about the health of your drinking habits do please check out the links in this post.  This story from NPR includes some links that offer assessment and tips for learning how to drink in more moderation.

What’s Better than Jesus?

It seems like a trick question doesn’t it?  Naturally the answer could only be even more Jesus.  And on Easter 2015 this was both a theological and a beer-o-logical truth at the rectory.

First let me begin with an apology for my absence.  You would think that once Easter is over all we priests can get back to our usual schedules of working one day a week.  Sadly, this is not the case.   Because no sooner do we catch our breath from Holy Week and Easer than we are confronted by the mountain of work we set to the side in order to deal with Holy Week and Easter in the first place.  So please forgive the lack of new content.

But getting back to Easter, you may recall this year it marked not only the holiest day in DSC_4199the Christian calendar but also the end of my alcohol fast.  So how to celebrate?  Well once the Easter services and family meal were over I opted for Evil Twin’s, Even More Jesus and a fine Cuban cigar (specifically a limited edition 2011 Hoyo De Monterrey petit torpedo).

From the moment I spotted the bottle I knew this had to be my Easter beer.  I don’t usually go in for a bottle just because of its name or label art, but every once in a while one just grabs my attention.

That was certainly the case for this Imperial Stout.  The color was suitably dark and the mouthfeel was pleasantly thick.  It was rich with coca, dried fruit and coffee yet for me what set it apart from the many other good Imperial Stouts I’ve tried was the level of smokiness.  This was not only pleasant on its merits but also helped the beer fuse beautifully with the cigar.

Now it should be noted that EMJ clocks in at 12% ABV so it took me about 3 hours to finish off the 22 oz bottle but that was just fine by me.  I was in no hurry.  My work for the day was done.  Hymns had been sung and incense swung.  Eggs gathered by adorable children and many hands shook.  Food prepared, table set and family fed. Jesus had risen and I was truly blessed to be surrounded by family and friends.  What better way to celebrate than with even more of the same.

It’s the Final Countdown!

Cue music.  Doo do do dooo, doo do do do doo…  

As I write this it’s less than 11 hours till I get to Europefinally break my Lenten fast. (Point of information:  Lent is officially over at the conclusion of the Great Vigil of Easter later tonight!)  It’s been a journey, that’s for sure.  There has been temptation and craving cropping up all along the way.  But as I approach the end of this forty days of exploration and discovery, I wanted to share with you the most unusual experience of this soon to be concluded fast.

Several weeks ago I was faced with a dilemma.  Our parish beer club had a meeting scheduled and none of the other members who might otherwise lead it in my stead was available.  The question before me was simple: cancel the meeting or try to lead a beer tasting without actually being able to drink any beer….

Since the whole point of this experiment was to push myself, I chose the latter.  And so I set out to lead a discussion on beers that might be considered “Misfit Toys.”  IOW when you think of Sierra or Stone you tend to think of very hop-forward beers.  Heck, SN even hops the heck out of their Bigfoot Barleywine.  But they also make some lagered beers that tend to fly under our collective radar.  And so that’s the kind of thing we drank… session beers from Southern Tier and Weyerbacher, American influenced Pale Ales from Belgium and the like.  Sometimes our conclusion was simply that the brewery ought to stick with what they got famous for and quit trying to branch out… Guinness Blond Lager??? Simply awful.  On the other hand we found a hidden gem… Weyerbacher’s Last Chance IPA was the winner of the night being not only an excellent beer, but a surprisingly sessionable one too from a brewery that is best known for beers ranging in the 9% plus ABV range.

But what was it like to pour and pass out round after round without actually being able to indulge?  Not as hard as you might think.  I even smelled each round to try to be able to participate in the discussion.  In some ways being in public made it easier….  I didn’t want to slip up n front of my friends and parishioners.   I don’t know if I could have restrained myself as easily had I been pouring and sniffing them alone at home.

The whole experience helped reinforce my confidence that I could be around beer and not be so tempted as to become uncomfortable.  But it was just one of many memorable and occasionally forgettable moments of this Lenten journey.  I look forward to sharing more about it with you next week.  But for now…. I mostly just look forward to ending it because “It’s the final countdown!”

The Walk to St. James Gate

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In honor of St Patrick’s Day I am re-posting one of my soggiest beer drinking adventures.  Hope you enjoy it.  Slainte!

Rain in Ireland is nothing new.  In fact, Kevin, my friend and host, during my summer 2011 trip told me that in Ireland you can experience all four seasons in a single day.

From the time of my arrival the daily rain quickly showed that my Columbia (and allegedly water resistant) jacket was not going to suffice.  Fortunately Kevin had a spare one from Patagonia that seemed to be working much better… that is until I decided to walk across Dublin in it in a steady rain.

I had weighed the decision for a couple of days now… should I bother to visit the famous Guinness Storehouse Brewery at St. James Gate while I was in Dublin or not?  It was without a doubt one of the most touristy things one can do…. right up there with the Blarney Stone it was something in my mind that only yokels stooped to do.   Yet I was also working to launch my blog dealing with reflections on beer and beer culture.  It was a only supposed to be a 15-20 minute walk… how could I pass it up?  So I headed out from just south of St. Stephen’s Green on my quest for the fabled “Perfect Pint.”

For those of you who don’t know me, I suck with maps.  There is something wrong with my internal compass.  I very easily get all turned around and head off in the opposite direction that I should be going in.  Now combine this misfortune of fogged up glasses and the inexplicable reality that Dublin seems to have no street signs whatsoever (and when I say none, I really do mean none) and the end result is that what should have taken no more than about 20 minutes took more like an hour.  And did I mention it was raining?

Anyway, the Patagonia had long since succumbed to the Irish weather and as the time was dragging on I began to second guess my decision…. Should I just give up, turn around and find a nice dry pub to warm up in?  But while one can certainly impugn my sense of direction and perhaps also my judgment and maybe even my intelligence, one thing you can never question is my stubbornness.

And so I stuck with it.  Eventually I got turned in more or less the right direction and at long last the brewery was in sight.  I kept walking even when it became apparent that I had chosen the wrong approach to finding the entrance to the 55 acre complex.  So instead of walking down the correct side and turning right to the entrance I walked the extra kilometer or so the wrong way around the perimeter.  Add to this that it was now 4:45 and they stopped letting folks in at 5:00 so the time was also adding to my anxiety.

Of course even with my wrong turns I eventually got there.  Upon entering I found there was a long queue of other wet and tired tourists who were also pushing their luck that afternoon.  While waiting to buy my ticket we were told that because of a private function that night that we had to go straight to the top to the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor and get our pint first and that then on the way back down we could take the self-guided tour.

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Part of the cool 360 degree view from the Gravity Bar

When I finally got to the front of the line I was shocked to find that the ticket for this cost not the 5 Euro I had been told but was in fact a whopping 15 Euro which translates to $21.30 given the exchange rate that day.  Again, I had second thoughts… $21 bucks for a pint?  That made the beer that I was told I had to rush up to get the most expense pint I had ever purchased.  But I had come this far and so was not about to turn back.

As I packed into the elevator with a group of German tourists I began anticipate the beer.  The room was circular and did indeed fulfill their claim that it offered the best views of Dublin.  Anyway, after standing in line for a while I finally held the glass in my hands.  I tried to savor the moment… to really analyze the appearance of the dark liquid still churning up its foamy head.  However the culmination of my relief at finally arriving, my thirst and the power of the moment simply got the better of me and I took a long first sip.

I sincerely wish I could say that that I had some sort of a transcendent moment… that brewing angels sang and that my perseverance was somehow rewarded with a once in a lifetime taste experience.  It was not so.  While the pint was indeed a good one and in fact seemed to have a bit more of a roasty character than the Guinness I had gotten elsewhere, it was not the Nirvana-in-a-glass that I had been hoping for.Image

I contemplated this as I walked back down the seven floors and perused the displays.  Had it all been worth it?  Had I made the right decision?  Had I been foolish not to turn back?  Perhaps.  Had I stayed in the City Center area I would no doubt have had different experiences and they likely would have been interesting, drier and probably a good deal less frustrating.  However, (and I suppose this is where I finally get around to the spiritual part of this post) I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason.  The reasons for my journey to St. James’ Gate are not yet fully clear to me and in fact may never be.  I will say that they lead to some interesting experiences in a local’s only pub in the Liberties neighborhood on the way back, but that as they say, is another story.   But even with that in mind, I am left to ponder the purpose of my journey.

What did God have in mind for me that day?  What did I miss out on?  What did it teach me about myself?  About my capacity for stubbornness?  What did God want me to learn from my perfect, but still less than satisfying, pint atop of Dublin?  I may never fully know but I still choose to believe that it all still served a purpose and in the end it is one thing I can check off my beer bucket list.